When we talk of carnage, we summon horrors beyond our wildest preparations. Horrid, stomach-churning tones and displays of how horrid people can be. Carnage, the latest album from frequent collaborators Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, wishes to do that too, but its abreaction and subsequent release show Cave, Ellis and company on fine form once again. They have removed themselves, ever so briefly, from the comfort of The Bad Seeds, and have set forth to make something similar in sound and style, but slightly different in effect and personality. As those sickening guitar riffs from Ellis shoot through the tortured, soulful lyrics Cave presents, there is a sense of simplicity and greatness to Carnage.
Opening strong with Hand of God and simply excelling from there, Carnage is a piece that desires trust from its audience. Cave and Ellis are on hand to take us to places they are familiar with. Pain echoes through the opening track and lyrics. The repetition of the line “Hand of God, Hand of God” underlines the severity of the writing and cements the tone for the rest of the piece. His common theme here is the implication of dragging yourself up, catching up with reality and keeping a cool head. Old Time solidifies this nicely. Again, those same, simple repetitions, this time of “I’m not far behind,” embed the implications Cave and Ellis are trying so hard to convey. It works with magnificent success.
Accompanying these inevitably tortured, intense lyrics, are instrumentals and orchestral touches that provide the backing to Cave’s opine. Ellis’ flourishes on violin and a variety of consistently understated, yet essential pockets of percussion, are crucial to the working of Carnage. Its title track is just as poetic, touching and moving as the rest of the album. It shows an understanding of how consistency must be matched with quality. Cave has adapted interchangeable themes throughout his discography, and such reliance on core meanings has only strengthened his knack for writing. White Elephant appears as the most provocative of the piece, assaulting the listener with sirens, the threats of gunfire and the reminder that he has the memory of a white elephant.
There is a sense of catharsis to Carnage. It is orchestral, open and bombastic. There is a desire to seek deep within the soul. Cave and Ellis always provide that. Here it has elements of purification. Skeleton Tree and Ghosteen had similar emotions, evoking the purge of disease and disaster from artists and audiences. It is that rare blend few creatives find, where their strife and struggle can adapt to poetic musings, musical enlightenment, and, most of all, to the audience. Cave and Ellis are the dark, brooding gift that keeps on giving. Carnage is no different in sound or style to their other collaborations over the past decades, but it is just as intimate, experienced and passionate as their other works together.